Mass General introduces iPhone app to screen for postpartum depression

Researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)'s Ammon-Pinizzotto Center for Women’s Mental Health have developed a comprehensive screening tool for postpartum depression (PPD).

Around 10 to 15 percent of women suffer from PPD but many cases go undiagnosed, which can have long-term negative effects on both mother and child. This app utilizes a 10-question self-rating scale, along with other tools to measure perinatal psychiatric illnesses, to screen for PPD so providers can administer treatment.

“The rapid growth of mHealth in psychiatry has led to the development of a variety of web-driven screening tools for many mental health issues, yet to date there has been little attention to the use of technology to better diagnose and treat PPD,” said Lee S. Cohen, MD, director of the Ammon-Pinizzotto Center and professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Further complicating matters is the wide prevalence of false positives, which occur approximately 25 percent of the time when using currently available scales.”

The free iPhone application, called the MGH Perinatal Depression Scale (MGHPDS), includes a questionnaire about mood, anxiety, sleep and stress at important times during and after pregnancy. The questionnaire is then able to identify specific symptoms of PPD in women ages 18 to 45 from the time they become pregnant to up to 12 weeks postpartum.

“Those who download the app and complete the included questionnaires may also consent to share their scores with researchers within our center here at MGH, further assisting in the development of an even shorter scale with greater specificity than what is currently available,” says Cohen. “It is our hope that, as screening for PPD becomes increasingly common across the U.S. and globally, easy-to-use tools like the MGHPDS, which can be readily used on smartphones and other digital devices, will lead to more accurate screening of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders and to improved clinical outcomes for patients.”